Wi-Fi vs Ethernet By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

Wi-Fi vs Ethernet                                By Josh Blagden

Wi-Fi is very convenient and we have grown rather accustomed to it, but Ethernet still has its benefits.

Wi-Fi is very convenient, especially for mobile devices. It's much easier for a laptop to automatically join a wireless network than to manually connect an ethernet cable, and not needing an Ethernet port has allowed for devices such as iPhones, iPads and Retina MacBook Pros to be very thin. However, WiFi does have its drawbacks. For one thing, WiFi is often plagued by range issues. No matter how good your wireless router is, the speed of the connection will decrease the further you get from the router as well as the number of walls which are between your router and your computer, set-top box or mobile device.

Ethernet has the benefits of reliability, range and throughput. Ethernet is of often more reliable than Wi-Fi and it’s also a lot easier to troubleshoot. Also, if you’re running out of range, you can connect an Ethernet switch, which will set the distance back to zero, while with Wi-Fi, the signal strength is maintained instead of being improved. 

With Wi-Fi, you’ll usually get up to 150 megabits per second of throughput, while you’ll get a gigabit per second on any computer which is made in the last ten years. 802.11ac is a big improvement over its predecessor, 802.11n, providing a gigabit of maximum throughput instead of 802.11n’s theoretical 300 megabit transfer speed. However, it still has the same problems that Wi-Fi has always suffered from, and wireless equipment (routers, wireless cards/adapters) tends to be expensive. 

Another issue which is often overlooked is security. Wi-Fi is generally seen by security professionals as being insecure because it can be subject to brute-force attacks wherein an attacker tries every possible password until he finds the right one. Once he finds the right password, he can access everything on the network, including passwords which are sent unencrypted. Wi-Fi uses a hub-and-spoke topology, which is why you should be careful about using public Wi-Fi networks; anything which you send unencrypted on a Wi-Fi network can be seen by anyone on the network. If you’re going to use a public Wi-FI hotspot, you should make sure to use a VPN. It’s also a good idea to turn on your Mac’s firewall and enable Stealth mode

If you’re going to have a Wi-Fi network at your house, there are a couple of things you can do to make it safer. First, you can disable the SSID broadcast. The SSID is basically the name of the wireless network. If someone can see that, then they know that they network exists and know its name, which is the first and most critical part of entering your network. Once they have the name of your network, they can run a brute-force attack, trying every possible password until they find the right one. But if you disable SSID broadcasting on your wireless router, attackers won’t be able to brute-force their way into your network The second thing you can do to make your Wi-Fi network safer is to use MAC filtering. With MAC filtering, you can provide your router a list of allowed MAC addresses. Any device whose MAC address is not on that list will be unable to connect until its MAC address is added your your router’s Access Control List. A MAC address is the hardware address which is hard-coded into every device’s Network Interface Card. Any device which connects to the Internet has a MAC address. The nice thing about MAC filtering is that it uses an unchangeable address to allow and deny access to your network.

Wi-Fi is convenient and has gotten faster over the years, but Ethernet still has its place.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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